Sourdough Starter Recipe for Bread Baking and More

Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus/CalypsoArt

If you’re tired of forgetting the yeast or tired of whole
wheat bread’s tendency to crumble (mine, a no-knead recipe,
does anyway) or just tired of the same old taste . . . try
some bread with real body. Try sourdough.

There are a number of recipes for sourdough starter and most
of them scare off the beginner by calling for potatoes and
other things more complicated and esoteric than you may
have on hand. Forget them. Life wasn’t meant to be that
difficult. I’ve rummaged through the cookbooks and
amalgamated the following formula that works (for me, at
least) perfectly every time:

Sourdough Starter Recipe


  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (can be potato cooking water if you
    have it but we’ve found that it’s not necessary.)
  • 1/2 cake or 1/2 tablespoon dry yeast, softened in another
    1/2 cup warm water.


  1. Stir these ingredients together and put the mixture in a
    clean crock with a lid if you have one . . . if not, a bowl
    with a plate on it, an enameled pan with a lid or even a
    nice big jar should do (just don’t screw the lid down too
    tight or you may find yourself cleaning sourdough off half
    the Free World).
  2. Without stirring or disturbing the starter, allow it to
    rise and fall until it gets as sour as you want it. And how
    sour should that be? We didn’t know either the first time
    through, so we just ad-libbed and let ours get
    good and sour. The original recipe said, “allow to
    work two or three days” but our first batch, sitting next
    to the wood heater (on the cold floor took about four).
    Once the starter is sour, put it in the refrigerator till
    you’re ready to use it.

Now for the good part . . . the sourdough bread!

I like to experiment with my cooking and I’ve evolved a
kind of a health-food, German-style, made-up bread recipe
that you might want to try.

Sourdough Bread Recipe


  • 1 cup starter
  • 1 1/2 quarts lukewarm water (the original recipe called for
    potato cooking water . . . but how would you ever
    get that much if you cooked your potatoes in as
    little water as possible to retain the vitamins? What I did
    was use 2/3 cup potato water and plain water for the rest.
    I think plain water all the way through would work just as
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 6 cups rye flour


  1. Mix well, cook and let the sponge “work” about three hours
    in a warm place until it gets nice and sour. Stir, take out
    one cup of starter for your next batch (and, believe me,
    there’ll be a next batch!) and store the starter in your
  2. Stir two tablespoons salt (we use flake salt from the feed
    store but, since it contains no iodine, sea salt is
    probably better for you) and two tablespoons lard or other
    shortening into into the remaining sponge.
  3. Add about four more cups flour (I use a mixture of rice
    polishings and corn, wheat, soy, rye and millet flour that
    we get from a health-food store in Kansas City) and stir
    well. Keep adding flour and stirring until you have a
    kneadable mixture. The original recipe called for ten cups
    but I’ve ended up using as much as 13, including what I put
    on the board to knead on (and in). The dough should be
  4. Knead until the dough isn’t sticky anymore. Shape it into
    three round loaves (or two, if you want big ones), place on
    oiled cookie sheets or in old pie tins (or even new ones .
    . . what the heck!) and put in a warm place to let rise
    approximately two to three hours or until dough has
    expanded in size by a third. I make cuts in the top of the
    sponge and judge the dough’s expansion by how the cuts
    swell open.
  5. If you cook on a wood stove—as I do—and your
    fire hasn’t already been going all day, start stoking the
    blaze about an hour before the bread’s due to be risen. At
    least that’s how long it takes me to get mine hot
    enough. Contrary to the articles in Mother Earth News no. 7, our
    little cookstove does not seem to get too hot. My
    fault, probably. We have mainly soft maple and elm kindling and oak and
    walnut for the main fire . . . but to really stoke our
    stove on up there, I’ve found that corncobs are the thing
    to use. They’re hot! My stove’s oven doesn’t have a thermometer—not even
    the “warm-medium-hot” kind—so I put my little
    dimestore oven thermometer in there and it works fine.
  6. Anyway, the temperature to shoot for is 350° F. If you
    have a gas or electric range, just preheat to that setting
    and forget it. If it’s wood you’re using, be prepared with
    lots of corncobs . . . you’ll have to maintain
    that temperature for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. 
  7. I’ve found that it’s easier to hold oven heat on my
    cookstove if I partially close the damper and reduce the
    draft once the stove is really roaring. It seems to keep
    the heat in and I don’t have to jump up and down tending
    the fire nearly as much as I did last week when I made
    chocolate chip cookies. Then, I had the draft wide open and
    it just blew the fire right away. It took me almost an hour
    and a half to get the oven to register 225° F. and
    another hour and a half to bake three sheets of cookies.
    Live and learn.

    Anyway, if you’re cooking with wood, you’ll certainly have
    worked up an appetite for that good old-time sourdough
    bread by the time it’s done. We cut ours as soon as it’s
    finished and put a lot of butter on it . . . and
    we figure we’ll want some other kind of bread about 1989! We’ll probably be using the same starter then, too. Some
    sourdough starters have been kept alive for over 100 years
    and handed down through generations just like family
    silver. I can’t think of a nicer thing to inherit.

Brad and Vena Angier, authors of a number of books about
their homesteading experience in the bush country of
British Columbia have often told
how they were introduced to sourdough by seventy-year-old
B.C. trapper Dudley Shaw.

Dudley preferred to launch his starter with four cups of
flour, enough warm water to make a thick, creamy batter and
an optional two tablespoons of sugar and two teaspoons of
salt . . . although he allowed that a yeast cake dissolved
in warm water would hasten the brew. He also mentioned that
some old-timers found it handy to add a tablespoon of
vinegar to the original batch or to any aged sourings that
needed reviving.

“Mix three-fourths of this initial starter with a
tablespoon of melted fat and a cup of flour in which a
teaspoon of baking soda has been well stirred,” was
Dudley’s advice, “then add whatever additional flour is
needed to make a smoothly kneading dough . . . and keep
attacking. Don’t gentle it. Too much pushing and pressing
lets the gas escape that’s needed to raise the stuff. Just
bang the dough together in a hurry, cut off loaves to fit
your pans and put them in a warm place to raise.”

Let the dough plump out to double size, then bake it from
forty minutes to one hour in an oven that is hottest during
the first fifteen minutes and, according to Dudley, your
bread will again be doubled in size and baked crisply done.
If you want to test the loaves before cutting, jab `em with
a straw. It should come out dry and “at least as clean as
it was when inserted”.

In the usual sourdough tradition, Dudley recommended that
the Angiers recycle the cup of saved-back starter into a
long series of baking adventures but he cautioned that they
should always “cover the sourings loosely or they’ll
explode all over the place. Makes a ghastly mess. Remember
they bubble copiously to better than double size, so use a
container that’s vast enough. When the mixture gets too
rampageous, a touch of baking soda will gentle it.”

Dudley added that too much soda could make the bread
yellowish or even kill the sourdough altogether . . . and
not enough would leave the baked goods tasting sour.
Experience is the best teacher.

The Angiers report that Dudley ended his lesson by
presenting them with a batch of 14-year-old starter. When
they gasped at the age of the sourings, he beamed, “They’ve
just started nicely.”

Published on Mar 18, 2019


Inspiration for edible alchemy.